5 Indisputable Truths of Life in the WordPress Ecosystem

I started in WordPress like most of you; tinkering. In 2009 I built my first blog as a hobbyist. As the blog became more popular I wanted to add more bells and whistles, so I started to dig into the WordPress codebase and really find my way around.

Previously I worked in the corporate IT world, surrounded by Microsoft products and licensing nightmares. From an outsiders perspective, WordPress looked like endless green pastures.

I could do whatever I wanted with my code, and I didn’t need three signatures from supervisors first? It sounded like a utopia.

Eventually I really grew to love working with open source software, and found the WordPress community very welcoming. In 2012 I left the corporate world for good and set out on my own. I started WP Site Care and the rest is history. Or is it?

The grass is always greener

I genuinely love what I do. I have an incredible team and we’re able to help people stay safe online and grow their small businesses. I leave work every day feeling good about what our team was able to accomplish.

However, there are still some things I wish I had better understood when I made the leap to working with WordPress full time. Over the years I’ve had plenty of missteps and they all boil down to five indisputable truths.

I’m going to share those truths with you today so you don’t make the same mistakes I did. Let’s get to it!

It’s almost never as dramatic as it seems

If you aren’t already familiar there’s an actual #wpdrama hashtag. I recommend you log into your app of choice and mute that hashtag right away. It’s become a bit of a meme itself, but the gist is that there’s drama in the WordPress community, and there’s a hashtag to conveniently keep track of it.

When I first stepped into the WordPress community I was the finest soldier in the keyboard warrior army. I felt like it was my duty to defend the righteous WP shield at all costs, even when it meant sacrificing my own goals.

Over the years I’ve come to find that social platforms like Twitter are really bad for meaningful conversation. I’ve also found that #wpdrama typically has a shelf life of about 48 hours. I’m telling you now, it’s not worth the emotional energy to get caught up. It’s lots of noise, and very rarely signal.

The people who are thoughtful and want to disagree or effect real change will do it with emails, in person conversations, or blog posts. You owe it to yourself to not get caught up in the #wpdrama.

Web hosting is more than a feature set

In August of 2013 I was really curious about how the different hosting providers stacked up against each other in terms of performance. Managed hosting didn’t have a ton of traction at that point, so I wrote an article in search of the best WordPress hosting and compared a bunch of entry level hosting providers.

At the time it was a novel idea. So novel, in fact, that the article hit the top spot on Hacker News and stayed there for almost two full days. Now the performance comparison benchmarking model has been replicated to death, typically as a lame affiliate play (more on that later), but what I’ve learned since is that the model was totally short-sighted.

The fact is that vanilla WordPress installs with no themes and no plugins don’t exist in the real world. And most of the hosting plans that I benchmarked were from faceless corporations where I was simply a number in a growth chart.

I see conversations all the time about “this host provides X feature” and “this other host provides X feature”. Sure, baseline requirements exist for all of us, but once those are met, it’s more about the people behind the platform than nitpicking line items between different hosting plans.

Platforms evolve. Performance fluctuates. Acquisitions happen. The hosting landscape is always changing. What doesn’t change is the core values of the company where you choose to do business.

Don’t get caught up chasing features when it comes to web hosting. It’s a fools errand. Find a partner you trust and work with them to establish expectations from both parties. That’s why we’ve hosted with Pagely for years. Their servers are fast, but more importantly I know they’ve got my back. (Pagely didn’t pay me anything to say this. In fact, they discontinued their affiliate program last year so I’m stuck here hocking their fantastic service and platform on my word alone. Total ripoff.)

Choose quality first whenever you can

When you’re starting out there’s a strong pull to go with the cheapest option when you’re buying plugins, themes, and services. It makes sense. You need to start lean, but don’t fall into the trap of saving pennies now that will cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars later on.

Seriously, don’t do it.

I’ve made this mistake more times than I can count, but the most notable instance in recent memory is when I decided that building a custom CRM using WordPress would end up being less expensive because “WordPress is free”, and “most of the plugins we’d need we already own”.

I was so dumb.

We did end up with a CRM that fit our needs well, but you know what? It was a terrible financial decision. All of the time, planning, designing and developing that went into building that “free” CRM ended up costing way more money than something as elaborate as SalesForce. We’ve since moved away from our homegrown CRM.

The point is, choose the most reputable vendors in the space, even if they cost a bit more money. Your future self will thank you.

Product reviews are mostly bogus

Filtering out the best vendors in the WordPress space is certainly a challenge on its own. Any google search for “insert product name here review” won’t have a genuine result until the third page.

Google is littered with affiliate-driven product reviews, and it’s really hard to decipher whose voice to follow when it comes to making a product purchase.

At times in a pinch I’ve gone down the Google rabbit hole, and it sucks.

Instead of getting lost in that sea of Sham Wow™ hucksters, follow these three steps instead. I use them all the time and it works great.

  1. Clearly understand the problem you’re trying to solve
  2. Find the experts in the community
  3. Ask for their advice

If you can’t articulate the problem you’re trying to solve in less than a paragraph, the problem probably can’t be solved by an existing product. Fine tune your exact needs until it’s easy to quickly understand, and then reach out for guidance.

I’ve asked countless people in WordPress who are much smarter than I am how they’d solve very specific problems, and they’ve always come through and been willing to help.

That said, clarity is incredibly important. Do your homework before reaching out or the reception isn’t going to be as warm. Do all the heavy lifting you can and look for help to get across the finish line, even if it’s just extra reassurance that you’re making the right decision.

You’ll never lose when you give away as much as possible for free

I know it sounds silly, but it’s true. Giving back will always make sure you land in the black. It can be a tough sell initially, but once you see it in practice it really is remarkable.

John O’ Nolan, Creator of the Ghost blogging platform shared this experience in his blog post 5 Ways to Grow Your Business by Working for Free.

Back in 2010 I was doing a bit of photography on the side, just for fun. I would do my best to take a photo every single day, and then I would upload it to Flickr to share my work. All of my photos are Creative Commons licensed, which means that anybody can take them and publish them – provided that they include some basic attribution.

Imagine my surprise when I saw a comment come in saying that my photo was going to run in The New Yorker the next day.

Shortly after it ran, I was contacted by multiple new clients who had seen the photo and wanted to know if I was available for hire. This was totally unexpected, and simultaneously awesome.

Releasing your work under Open Source, Creative Commons or Royalty Free licenses can have all sorts of suprising bonuses.

Our first instinct as humans is to protect our own, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But as I wrap up this article I’d like to leave you with a challenge.

Submit a PR Request, speak at a conference, learn a new skill and share your learning along the way. Volunteer just for the sake of volunteering. I promise that by stepping outside yourself for just a short amount of time, you’ll create an opportunity for yourself that you couldn’t have had otherwise.

There may be five indisputable truths, but this last one will never be dethroned. Giving back is your vehicle to moving yourself, the WordPress community, and the mission of democratizing publishing forward. Know the truth, and act accordingly.

I’m Ryan Sullivan, owner of WP Site Care. You can find me on Twitter at @ryandonsullivan, but I can’t say I recommend that you do.